The Fluid Nature of Language

JOY Full Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains – Part 5 of 5

The Fluid Nature of Language
We began this discussion of negative reinforcement by eavesdropping on a late night gathering of the Clicker Expo faculty.  It is now twelve o’clock and the conversation in the faculty lounge is still going strong.  We have shed Kay and several of the others.  I had promised myself that I would leave at 11:30, and yet here I am.  Another ten minutes and then I really will leave.  That’s what I say to myself, but I have been saying it all evening.

Eva has asked another question.  I am loving the twists and turns the conversation is taking, but really I do have presentations to give.  I find an opening in the conversation and stand up, bringing the discussion to a natural close.  The others all stand up, as well.  Good.  I won’t miss anything.  But as I am leaving, I hear Susan Friedman asking Ken Ramirez a question.  I want to stay, but I know if I do, I will be good for nothing tomorrow.  I leave, but the following day, I hear from Ken that he and Susan remained locked in a discussion over terminology until 1:30 in the morning.

Language is not fixed.  We add words.  We change words.  We think we understand the intended meaning when we hear words used in context, but do we?  We are so accustomed to the fluid nature of language we don’t even notice how the language has evolved until we run into someone who uses the same words but in a different way.

In behavior analysis precision matters, and the use of language is very structured and controlled. It is like that puppy in yesterday’s post who stays in the base position of lying down while he learns to move just his paw.  Lying down keeps the number of things that are moving to a minimum.  Change too many variables at once, and it becomes harder to notice the one thing that you’re doing.  Scientists attempt to constrain the language to make themselves clearer.  Terms such as positive punishment and negative reinforcement have very precise meanings.  Unfortunately, when you bring that language back into the realm of common usage, confusion is often the result.

As I thought about our wonderful late night conversation, I found myself straddling both sides of the fence.  I agree that we need to understand the technical definitions of the terms we use.  But along with that understanding is the consideration of how the terms have been used, interpreted, and misinterpreted over the years.  Are the definitions are still valid in light of additional research and development?  Do we need to modernize/change the definitions to bring them more in line with modern usage?  Is it time to develop new language that reflects more accurately our current understanding of the systems we’re studying.  Archaic language can keep us stuck in archaic belief systems.

How Words Are Used
Are there some terms that we need to snatch back from the scientists?  Are there some that are simply so useful and so easily understood that we need to say to the scientists you can’t have this one?  I think chains may well fall into this category.

A chain of behaviors is such a descriptive term.  It doesn’t take a lot of explaining for a novice to understand that you are asking for a series of behaviors, each one linked to the next.  It’s a good term, one that suggests it’s meaning almost without the need for a formal definition – except . . . the scientists have given this term a very specific meaning that excludes much of what many animal trainers mean when they refer to chains.

The scientists have their technical chains: you give one cue that starts the process.  The next behavior is triggered by an internal cue.  It’s like dominoes.  You push over the first block and all the rest follow.

A sequence is something very different.  It’s a series of behaviors in which you cue one after the other after the other.

Hmm.  But are they really all that different.  Why does it matter if the cue comes from the green cone the horse sees after the jump or from a handler calling out “green”.  Both are cues.  And both link behaviors together.

The kind of chain that you wear around your neck is made up of links.  You can open up one of the links to take a section of the chain out or to add in more links. That’s why it is such a good image.  It provides such a clear visual image of one behavior connected to another.  You begin with one link.  You make that consistent, then you add the next link in the chain.  Link by link you can imagine growing your chain into longer and longer sections.  You can also imagine how links can be opened and a section of a longer chain taken out to be worked on separately or used in a different context.

It’s such a great image, I’m reluctant to give it over to the scientists.  We can certainly refer to technical chains, but I am also going to use the term chain to mean any series of behaviors which are deliberately linked together by cues.

poco-hug-3

 

With Poco I was using these links to build a two way conversation.  Touch could be highly aversive for him.  I wanted to show him that it didn’t need to be.  He could let down his guard and let me in.

 

The Power of Play
Play brought us step by step to this point.  It kept me laughing.  It kept me from treating him like something broken that needed to be fixed.  It kept me from becoming so fixated on his ears that I simply convinced him all the more to keep me at arm’s length.  Remaining PLAY FULL opened up creative possibilities.  It brought back old training memories, memories of Linda-Tellington-Jones in the mid 1980’s working with a fearful llama by doing TTEAM circles with her forehead, not her hands.  It let me take familiar lessons and combine them in novel ways.  It kept me listening to Poco and letting him lead me through the process.  It kept the training fun.

If you had walked into the arena in the middle of this session, you might not have said – “oh they’re playing.”

You would certainly recognize as play the rough and tumble of two young horses rearing up together in a field, or two dogs playing keep away with a stick.  You would see play when a handler clicks and throws a tennis ball to her dog or engages with him in a game of tug.  But this subtle exchange with Poco probably would not look like anything you would call play behavior.

With dogs you can use natural play behaviors very effectively to build bonds between you.  That’s not so much the case with horses.  Given their size, a horse’s natural play behavior means you are “playing” with dynamite.  So Poco and I developed our own form of play.  It evolved out of my approach to the session more than the specific behaviors I used.  If I am full of play, the horses respond by doing what Poco did – letting down their guard and inviting me in.

*  *  *  *

With this tenth characteristic of cues well in place we’ve moved from the realm of macro-responses to micro-shaping.  You’ve had a taste of what this means in the descriptions of Pocos sessions.  We’ll be covering it in even more detail in Part Three of JOY FULL Horses.

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

Moving On

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 11 of 12

Celebration!

poco-hug-2nd-day

The previous section began my description of a series of Play sessions I had with an ear-shy horse named Poco.  Step One was teaching Poco to target his nose to my hand.  After two sessions, I could cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would previously have worried him.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

Moving On

poco-come-into-hands

Training is all about moving on.  With Poco I moved on by adding yet another dimension to the body part targeting.  I stood in front of him and asked him to place his nose into my hands.

I drew my hands forward, inviting him to follow me with a give through his poll.  He wasn’t sure what was wanted.  He lifted his nose out of my hands.  Again, I invited him into my hands.  I could feel the tension in his poll, the habitual holding.

My hands offered him a suggestion, an invitation.  He found the answer.  I could feel the release as he let go of the tension.  He lengthened into my waiting hands.  Click and treat.

poco-give-full-body

Poco as he releases through the poll for the first time.

What Could You Find? What Could You Release?
Years ago I had a client who was an Alexander practitioner.  She had also studied Feledenkrais work and a number of other, related types of body work.  We did trades.  I worked on her horse and his balance issues, and she worked on mine.

Marge never gave you answers.  Instead she presented you with questions.  “What could you find, what could you release to let go of the tension?”

I remember one day she was moving my arm through a series of rotations, exploring the range and ease of motion that was available to me.  I let her circle my arm.  It was an oddly pleasing sensation.  I could just let go of all expectations and let her take my arm through a series of rotations.

Abruptly she released my arm, but instead of dropping down to my side, it remained suspended in mid air.

I remember looking at it.  How odd.  Gravity should have taken care of that.

I remember Marge chanting: “What could you find, what could you release that would allow your arm to just drop down?”

I had no idea since I had no idea why my arm was still up in the air.

Posing the Questions
Marge didn’t solve the puzzle for me.  She posed the question.  I had to find my own answers.

This was what I was doing for Poco.  I was presenting him with a puzzle.  Through my hands I was asking the same questions Marge had all those years ago: “What could you find, what could you release that would let you follow the invitation of my hands?”

Adding the Click
The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco.  I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him.  Poco and I were involved in a conversation.  I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers.  Poco had to provide those.

I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.

I’ve done body work without the added dimension that clicker training brings.  I know how profoundly it can change horses.  Adding in the clicker gives you more.

“When I was young I did the best I could.  But when I knew better, I did better.”    
        adapted from the poet, Maya Angelou

Doing better means I want the conversation.  I’ve experienced the difference, and I know I want the horse actively involved in finding his own answers.  This in no way negates the value of what I had learned all those years ago through Linda Tellington-Jones.  Nor does it devalue what others are doing with their own listening hands.  I don’t know what magic exists in the hands of a skilled body worker.  But for me the magic comes through the science of clicker training.

poo-deep-release-4-good

Remember this is an ear-shy horse.  Poco is offering me a lovely soft release through his entire spine.

Coming Next: Tactile Communication

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

Stepping Stones

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 10 of 12

More To Learn
In the previous section I described the profound difference TTEAM training made for Peregrine’s mother.  Peregrine, on the other hand, didn’t like TTEAM body work.  I remember feeling so frustrated with him.  Here he was with his own private body worker, and he wasn’t interested.  There were so many horses who loved and benefited from the sessions I gave them.  Peregrine fussed and refused to participate.

So I put my antennae up and went looking for solutions that he liked better.  I didn’t reject TTEAM work.  I didn’t say it was wrong or it didn’t work.  It had given me far too much to ever turn my back on it. Peregrine was simply telling me there was more I needed to learn.

I think of all the elements that have gone into my horse education as stepping stones.  I’m never regretful of any of my stepping stones.  There may be things I don’t use any more, techniques I disagree with now that I have more experience, but each of those stepping stones gave me something of value.  When you are finding your way over uncertain ground, you don’t always find the clear path right away.  Learning where you don’t want to step – and why – helps guide you to the secure footing of a path that’s worth following.  TTEAM was definitely a path worth following.  Because I stepped on that stone, I found all the others that set me in the direction of clicker training.

Remembering Play

poco-in-hug

Poco

Today if you watched me working with horses you wouldn’t see very much that would jump out at you as TTEAM work. But every now and then I’ll have a horse who brings out my TTEAM background.  Poco was one of those horses.

 

poco-ear-shy

Poco showing us his concern over having his ears touched.

I introduced you to Poco earlier.  He’s the ear shy buckskin who I had been watching over a period of several months progress from being a completely don’t-touch-me horse to one who could tolerate being bridled and handled around his head.  But tolerate was the key word.  He was by no means comfortable, especially with people he didn’t know.

I was itching to play with him.  I’d watched his handler give him some great work sessions, but that’s not what he needed.  He didn’t need to work.  He needed to play.  Or more to the point, he needed US to play.

When you play, you become creative.  You take elements from different parts of your life, and you combine them in new ways to come up with solutions you haven’t tried before.  Your stepping stones become important.

Getting “Yes” Answers
During one of his work sessions, Poco’s handler was called away to check on something in the barn.

“Would you mind holding him for me?” she asked.

Big mistake.

You never want to hand me a horse – not if you want to get him back any time soon.

I began in a round about way with Poco.  I knew I wanted him to target his ear to my hand, but I also knew I couldn’t begin there.

Never start with your goal.

That’s one of the rules of good training.

I couldn’t go directly to his ears, but I could teach him the overall concept of body part targeting.  There wasn’t much I could get a consistent “yes” answer to, so I began by simply grabbing his nose firmly between my hands and squeezing tight for the briefest of brief seconds.  Click and treat.

Now that last sentence doesn’t sound very clicker compatible.  Grabbing his nose between my hands sounds rather rude and abrupt, but I’ve found that this is often an effective way to begin.  I am in effect saying to the horse:  “This is what I want to do.  This is what it will feel like.  There’s nothing else that I’m going to do, just this.”

Training Choices
I could have gone through a shaping process to teach Poco to bring his nose to my hands.  That’s another, very valid approach.  With Poco I went the more direct route.  Sometimes it is important to show the horse that what he’s worried about really isn’t all that bad.

If I shaped him to bring his nose towards me, I might have been bringing all his worry and concern right along with the rest.  “Yes, I’ll bring my nose closer to you because I want the treat, but I really am still afraid.”

Sometimes what the horse discovers through the shaping process is he really doesn’t have anything to worry about and his fear melts away.  But sometimes the worry stays locked in.  It twists its way around each reinforcer just as surely as a vine twists around the tree that supports it.

With Poco I also knew I didn’t have much time with him. I needed to explain to him fast what I was going to be asking him to do.  So I reached up and held his nose firmly between my hands.  I gave him a solid squeeze.  I clicked as I released the pressure.

I thought of Temple Grandin and her description of the comfort she felt from being squeezed tight in an enclosed space.

Who knows how horses experience this, but I have found that a firm squeeze around the nose helps to settle many anxious horses.

This quickly evolved into my asking Poco to target his nose to my hand.  The first couple of times it was more a matter of my bringing my hand to his nose than the other way around.

poco-touch-nose

It was touch his nose fast – click treat. Note he is wearing a bridle because his handler had been working on bridling when she was called away.

It was touch his nose, click fast before he could pull away.  Treat. Touch his nose again.

I used a verbal cue.  “Nose”  It began as a signal of my intent.  It meant: I am going to reach out and touch your nose.

Telling him in advance what I was going to do gave him time to prepare.  I wasn’t sneaking up on him so it actually helped him to accept the contact more calmly. He knew exactly what I was going to do, and he also knew it wasn’t going to last long and the contact would be followed by a treat.

Very quickly I could hold my hand ever so slightly away from his nostril and wait for him to come that last little bit to me.  Click and treat.

Building Clean Loops
I progressed towards this in tight clean loops.

We did a cycle of squeezing his nose – click treat, repeat.  Then I’d walk off causally with Poco following behind me on a loose lead.  That gave him a break and set us up for a change in the next cycle.

So now it might be place my hand over his nostril – click treat.  Again, repeat this several times and then walk off casually.

The next cycle was bring your nose to my hand – click treat.

Then it was target my cupped hand to your chin – click treat.

The treat was so much more than just the piece of carrot I was offering him.  The treat included lots of verbal praise –  “Aren’t you great!  You’re so smart”  – together with lots of scritching.

Scritching
Scritching is my word.  It isn’t petting or stroking.  It’s a get-your-fingernails-dirty, deep kneading of a horse’s neck and back.  Think about how horses socially groom one another.  That’s what you are imitating so get in there and get your fingers dirty!  There’s nothing soft or diffident about it.  If your hands are clean after one of these sessions, either you are a superb groomer, or you aren’t doing it right.

I’ve had people tell me I need to come up with a name for the training I do.  Here’s a suggestion: The Dirty Fingernails Club!  Somehow, it’s never caught on.

Sequence Matters
In clicker training we’re used to hearing that timing matters.  The sequence in which you do things matters, as well.

Poco’s handler had done a lot of rubbing on his neck, but she had put it BEFORE the click.  I was putting it AFTER.

Before the click, there was always the question: what more are you going to do?  There was always a bit of guardedness in Poco’s emotional response.

After the click, it was all celebration.  You’re so good!  I wasn’t trying to see how much closer to his ears I could get.  I was simply rubbing and scritching him and telling him he was wonderful.  There was no agenda other than to celebrate the previous clickable moment.  Poco let his guard down.  He melted.  Panksepp could tell us about the dopamine that was being released in his brain.  What I could observe was a softening around the eyes, a dramatic change in muscle tone, an increase in responsiveness towards me.

I wish I had filmed that first session to share with you the change in Poco.  I was opening a dialog.  Because I was in a play state he could stay to listen and begin to let me in past his guard.

You Never Know What You’ve Taught.  You Only Know What You’ve Presented
The next day I did a follow up session with Poco.  I was still a long way from being able to handle his ears so I wanted to continue the conversation I had started.

In this next session Poco was much more accepting of my hands around his muzzle.  I built a small chain.

“Nose”  The cue initially simply told him what I was about to do.  I was going to cup my hand over his nostril.  It grew into Poco actively seeking out my hand.

As soon as my left hand was cupped over his nostril, I said “Chin”.

Poco responded by dropping his head so his chin rested in the cup of my right hand.

Click and treat.

Using Your Head
I wanted to get to his ears, but I had run out of hands, so I used my head – literally.

Nose.” He brought his head into position to meet my hand.

Chin.” He gave at the poll so his chin dropped into the cup of my hand.

As I supported his muzzle between my hands, I leaned in closer to him until I could rest my forehead between his eyes.  Click and treat!

poco-nose-chin-head

“I almost got a kiss!” I told him as I rubbed his neck and exclaimed to him that “He was so good!”

Breath
Building duration was next.  As I cupped my hands around his muzzle, I waited.  I was feeling for the exhale of his breath.

poco-click-on-exhale

I am waiting for Poco to exhale.

If you want to keep your rates of reinforcement high, this is a great behavior to go after.  We want our horses to relax so we like to click behaviors we read as signs that they are “happy” and “at ease”.  So we like to click for things like ears forward, but if the horse is concentrating or listening to activity behind him, you can wait a long time for his ears to move.  And if you withhold the click too long, your horse may begin to feel frustrated.  You’ve suddenly put him into an extinction process that you hadn’t intended.

If a horse has been earning clicks pretty consistently and now suddenly he isn’t, he’s going to become frustrated.  That’s a predictable outcome of extinction.  The more frustrated a horse becomes, the less likely he is to put his ears forward.  So now you’re stuck.

What do you do?  If you wait it out, you could be unraveling all those good dopamine-propelled feelings of relaxation.  You could end up with a frustrated, angry horse who is convinced that he doesn’t want anyone touching him anywhere.

Or maybe in desperation you click him for something, anything to get yourself out of this muddle.  I’m going to come back in a later section to desperation clicks and their fallout.

For now I’ll offer a different approach.  Instead of focusing on his ears – go for his breath.  Unless you are working with a sperm whale, you know he’s going to be exhaling on a regular, easily clickable basis.  So click as he exhales, and you’ll very quickly feel your horse melt even further into your hands.

Now wait for the deep exhale that truly signals a letting go of tension.  He is well on his way to letting his guard down and inviting you in.

Celebration!
Poco would now cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would have worried him previously.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

poco-hug-1st-day

Press my forehead against his. Click. Treat. Celebrate!

 

Coming Next: Moving On

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

The Teachers We Get Are The Teachers We Need

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 9 of 12

Stories
“She’s just being lazy.”  That was what I was told when I first asked about the way Peregrine’s mother dragged her hind toes.  She was not even a year old, and she had been mine for just a few short weeks.

The vet hadn’t said anything during the prepurchase exam about the way she used her hind end, but then he hadn’t really looked.  This was the first prepurchase exam I had ever seen so I didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve watched many more since, and I can say that this was the sloppiest and most superficial.

She was a weanling.  What could be wrong?  Thank goodness he was so casual with the exam!  If he had looked more closely, he might have noticed the way she was moving behind.  I’m not sure what I would have chosen to do.  I didn’t want a “problem” horse.  I wanted a horse I could ride; a horse who could teach me about great horsemanship.  The Universe was clearly listening because that’s what I got.

While my friends were taking their adult horses off to shows, I was raising my dream horse.  Only there was something wrong.  Dragging her hind feet was the first sign.

“She’s just being lazy.  You need to get after her more and make her move.”

That didn’t seem right.  There was something else going on.  A month or so after I started questioning her movement, I saw her fall for the first time.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to all those well-meaning horse people who had been telling me to get after her.  I had known she wasn’t being lazy.  I knew there had to be a different answer.  I just didn’t know yet what it was.

One of the best definitions of a teacher that I have ever heard is this: a teacher is someone who started before you.  Nowadays, as a teacher, I say to people we need to tell stories about our horses that work in their best interest.  The owner of the barn told the “lazy” story about my filly.  That story leads to the “get after her” answer.

I told a different story.  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was sure there was something wrong.  I had a new vet in the practice come out and give her a more thorough exam.  This one included neurological tests – all of which she failed.

We need to tell stories that help us find good training solutions.  If I say that there is something wrong, I’ll become a good detective.  I’ll take care of my horse’s physical needs.  I’ll make sure my horse’s feet are well balanced, that his tack fits comfortably, that his nutritional needs are met.

I’ll check for lameness issues, for ulcers, and for other health issues that might interfere with my horse’s willingness to work with me.  I’ll break my training down into small, manageable steps.  If my horse doesn’t want to go forward, I’ll explain what I want more clearly.  I’ll find lots of different ways to say “go forward” until they all begin to make sense.

Suppose after all this due diligence, I discover that actually, yes, the reason my horse didn’t want to go forward was he’s lazy.  In that case what is the worst that can happen? He’ll be healthier because I reexamined his overall management.  He’ll be better trained because I explained what I wanted.  And in all likelihood, he’ll be eager to work with me, and I won’t be thinking he’s lazy.  I’ll just be appreciating his level-headedness.

But suppose I bought into that original story – “He’s just being lazy. You should get after him.”  What’s the worst that can happen?

In my filly’s case I would have destroyed all the good will I had built up in our relationship.  She wasn’t dragging her toes because she was lazy.  She was dragging them because she couldn’t feel where they were.  The neurological damage meant she couldn’t feel her hind feet as they landed.

The news was devastating.  But even more was the prognosis.  At that time the vets had nothing to offer.  They told me she would in all likelihood continue to deteriorate until she was no longer able to stand up.  She would become a danger both to herself and to anyone who was near her.  I would never be able to ride her.  The best thing I could do would be to put her down.

I couldn’t do it.

I felt trapped.  I wanted a riding horse, not a pasture ornament.  I couldn’t afford a second horse.  But I couldn’t put her down just because she couldn’t do for me what I wanted.  Her life had value to her.  When she got to the point where she couldn’t stand up and life was hard for her, then I would face the decision to put her down.  That was the future we were looking at.  In the meantime I had to deal with the problems each day presented.

One Day At A Time
While my friends were learning how to jump, I was teaching my filly how to walk – literally.  When most of us talk about teaching our horse to walk we simply mean when we are asking them to walk with a certain energy level and overall balance.  We don’t mean how to put one foot in front of the other without falling.

When you are caught in a situation like this, you try many different things.  It is truly everything and the kitchen sink.  At the universities scientists run controlled studies so they can say this technique works, and this other is just an old wife’s tale.  I wasn’t interested in controlled studies.  I tried lots of different things.  Her condition began to stabilize.  She wasn’t getting worse.  The neurological deficit was still there.  It would always be there, but she was learning how to compensate for the lack of proprioception.

Her balance was better, but not her mood.  She was a terrible grump.  She didn’t want to be groomed.  If you walked past her shoulder, you would get pinned ears and her head snaking out at you to warn you off.  I always had to be careful when others walked past her to make sure she didn’t bite at them.  The barn owner had no use for her.  He made his money by taking clients to horse shows and giving them lessons.  From his point of view she was useless, and on top of that she was bad tempered.

I didn’t see her this way.  She was my beautiful, best beloved.  Together we were figuring out how to manage her condition.  But the grumpiness was a concern.  She clearly hurt somewhere, but she couldn’t tell me where.  As soon as I approached her, she was warning me off.

TTEAM
In one of the many horse magazines I was reading at that time, I came across an article about Linda Tellington-Jones’ TTEAM training.  The article described in detail the TEAM body work.

I was up for trying anything.  That evening at the barn I experimented with the TTEAM circles. You were to cup your hand lightly on the horse.  Then you imagined a clock face.  Beginning at 6 o’clock, you moved your finger tips once around the clock back to 6 and a little beyond, pressing softly into the horse’s coat.  You were to make one circle, and then move on to a different spot, letting your fingers guide you.

I tried it.  My filly melted.  Her head dropped.  Her eyes got soft.  She let me in.

Her whole body didn’t hurt.  Finally, she could show me where the problem was.  I could do TTEAM circles everywhere but one spot on her shoulder.  That was off limits.

Now I could help her.

I didn’t have a lot of money.  Taking on a horse was stretching my budget to it’s limits, but I knew I had to learn more about TTEAM.  I knew I needed to study with Linda directly.

So I did some research, booked a spot on a clinic she was teaching out in the mid-west and got on an airplane.  That was the first of many long journeys my horses have sent me on.

Innovations Come From the Outside In
Whether you are talking about the sciences, sports, economics: whatever the field of study is, new innovations evolve by bringing in ideas from the outside.  We don’t evolve from the inside expanding out.  We evolve by bringing in fresh ideas and combining them with what we already know.  That’s how we come up with completely novel combinations.

That’s what Sally Swift did through her Centered Riding.  She introduced the horse world to the Alexander technique and transformed how riding is taught.

Linda Tellington-Jones did something comparable for how horses are handled.  She combined Moshe Feldenkrais’ work with her knowledge of horse training to produce something brand new and revolutionary – TTEAM.

Linda describes how she stumbled across Feldenkrais.  She and her husband, Wentworth Tellington, had been running a school for instructors in California.  They had 65 horses, plus staff and students, and all the responsibility and work that goes along with the running of a successful program.  Linda burned out.  She divorced her husband, sold off all the horses and went traveling.

As she described it, she put her antennae up and followed them wherever they took her.  I love that image, and I have used it myself many times.  I follow my antennae, and they have taken me on many wonderful adventures.

Following Antennae
Following my antennae took me to TTEAM.  I became a TTEAM Practitioner and in the mid-1980s I began teaching.  That hadn’t been my intent when I headed off on this journey, but people were seeing what I was doing with Peregrine’s mother, and they were curious.  How could she be doing so much more than their own horses when she was so very handicapped?

Because I was willing to travel, I had access to people they didn’t.  I was bringing in new ideas from the outside.  I was still greener than green in so many ways.  Some of my clients could most definitely ride circles around me in terms of their skills on horseback, but I had access to resources they didn’t.  And I was beginning to understand balance in a way that could help every horse I encountered.

The Joy of Discovery
There is a lot to be said for riding lots of horses.  That’s the typical horse background of most professionals.  They’ve grown up on the backs of horses, riding everything and anything that came their way.

I was having a very different and very unique experience.  While others were off riding at shows, I was piecing together yet another tiny layer of the balance puzzle.   What fascinated me was process.  My clients understood that I didn’t have set answers for them.  What I was sharing was a love of exploration.  I wasn’t giving them recipes: this and only this is the way you train.  I was sharing with them the joy of discovering yet another layer in the training puzzle.

People would contact me because they were struggling with some handling issue.  Usually within a session or two we would be well on the way to solving their original problem, but now they were hooked on learning more.  The adventure of discovery was what I was sharing.  Very quickly they didn’t need me any more for the original problem.  That was well behind us, but they wanted to keep going, to join me on the journey that eventually led to clicker training and all that it represents.

Ready To Teach
Many of my clients became long-term friends.  As their skills expanded, they also became interested in teaching, but often they weren’t sure if they were really qualified to help others.  When someone voices concerns about being ready to teach, I always refer back to my own early experiences.  We are all experts in our own experience.  That is the one thing we can safely say.  I may not be an expert in jumping or team penning, but I am an expert in my own life experience.  That is something I know well and can share.

A teacher is someone who started before you.

I have always loved that definition.  I don’t know where I first heard it or who gets the credit for it.  Whoever it was said a very wise thing.

You don’t have to wait until you are The Expert in your field to have something useful to contribute.  You can teach and share out of your own experience.  As long as people understand that you are teaching process, an on-going, never-ending exploration, you are fine.  You aren’t teaching something that is set in stone and where you have all THE answers.  You are teaching a process of exploration.  You are inviting others to join you on the journey.

Change Makers
These days if you watch me train, most of the time you won’t see anything that jumps out at you that says: she must know TTEAM.

TTEAM was a stepping stone, and a very important one at that.  Linda followed her antennae to Moshe Feldenkrais.  He told her to keep exploring and to create.  She became a Feldenkrais practitioner, but instead of using the work just on people, Linda carried it back to what she knew – horses.  Out of that combination she developed something new.

I remember helping Linda at a clinic she was giving for a university audience in Madison Wisconsin.  It was a large group that included many vets and vet students.  One of the horses she worked that day was a big, raw-boned chestnut thoroughbred named Perfect.

Linda began by exploring his body using what she called tiger touches.  Tiger touches are not meant to be therapeutic.  They are used to collect data.  Instead of the soft circles that I had first tried, in the tiger touches you curve your fingers more like the claws of a cat – hence the name – and you go deep into the muscles.  You begin the exploration up at the horse’s poll and then work your way down his spine, shoulders and hindquarters.

At every point that Linda tested, Perfect reacted.  When she got to his back, he all but dropped to his knees, he was in so much pain.

I listened to a gasp go up in the audience.  Linda was helping people see what had been in front of them all this time.

What they had been taught had kept them from seeing how much pain horses could be in.  We had all been told horses are stupid animals.  Over and over again we heard this.  That was the underlying belief system that dominated horse training.  “Horses are stupid animals and because they are stupid, you have to use force to train them.”  But then this was added: “Don’t worry, they don’t feel pain the way we do.”

A month or so after I watched Linda working with Perfect, I was reading an article in one of the major horse magazines.  It was written by a vet.  In the article he stated that horses do not experience back pain.

That was 1984.  We have truly come a long way, and Linda, I believe, was a major catalyst for that change.

In 1984 we didn’t pay attention to saddle fit.  You found a saddle that fit YOU, and then you used it on every horse that you rode.   I remember being taught to put saddles up on top of the horse’s withers.  When the saddle slid back on our high withered thoroughbreds, we put breast collars on to hold them in place.

It was Tony Gonzales, a farrier from Hawaii, who started to look at saddle placement.  He had people watch how their horses moved when the saddles were placed up on the withers.  Then he slid the saddles back behind the “locking in” point of the shoulder and had them watch again.  The change was often dramatic.  Now that the saddle was no longer pinching their shoulders, the horses could move.

Tony pointed out how uneven our horses often are.  I remember being at a clinic of his that Sally Swift was also attending.  Tony lifted Sally up so she could see down the spine of a tall thoroughbred.  He pointed out how uneven this horse’s shoulders were.

This is general knowledge today, but it took a farrier from Hawaii bringing in fresh information to help us see what had always been right in front of us.

Change Our Beliefs, Change the World
When Peregrine’s mother was first diagnosed, there weren’t any chiropractors, or body workers around to help.  They didn’t exist for horses.  If they don’t experience pain, why would you need a body worker?

But now there are physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, energy workers.  They are there in large part because Linda did tiger touches on a chestnut thoroughbred named Perfect. Together they helped people see what had always been there – horses do experience pain.  It is just as real to them as it is to us.  They are just better at hiding it.

Detective Work
I have always said I was so lucky in my horses, first with the neurological issues, and then later with Peregrine and his stifles.  That may not sound lucky, but at least I knew what I was dealing with.  There was no hiding these issues.  I’ve dealt with so many horses who are puzzles.  You know something isn’t right, but the horse masks the symptoms.  It’s tempting to dismiss the reluctant attitude and reach instead for “just make him do it” solutions.

Again, we need to remember that horses are prey animals that rely on the safety of the herd for protection.  Any animal that looks lame or infirm will attract the notice of predators.  To stay safe horses have to hide their pain.  That doesn’t mean they don’t feel the sharp twinge every time they take a step.  I’ve had lots of injuries that I kept to myself.

If you don’t see the injury, you don’t need to know about it.  That’s how horses operate.  If they look vulnerable, they could be driven out of the herd.  Alone and infirm, they will certainly attract the attention of any predators that are around.

We need to remember this when we go looking for the root cause of our horse’s reluctant attitude.  The big things horses will show.  It’s hard to disguise an abscess or a torn tendon.  But other things they will be reluctant to let you see.

“He’s not right” will be a nagging feeling.  Vets, trainers, other horse people will tell you nothing is wrong, but you’ll still have that gut feeling.  Listen to it.  Be a good detective and tell a story that works in the best interest of your horse.

Coming Next: Stepping Stones
I promised you I would be returning to the ear-shy horse, and now finally in this next post, that’s what I’ll be doing.

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

Questions

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 8 of 12

More Questions
In the previous posts I looked at the components that go into creating clicker “super glue”.  This discussion brings us back to questions, and that’s getting us closer to returning to Poco, the ear-shy horse I introduced you to at the beginning of this unit.

There are many threads that weave through my work.  What is common to all of them are questions.  In the sciences you are trained to ask questions.  You aren’t there simply to regurgitate to others what is already known.  Your role is to explore, investigate and expand upon what is already known.

In archaeology a portion of a site that is being excavated is set aside for a future generation to uncover.  The belief is that the methods of exploration will advance, opening up the possibility that more can be learned by waiting for those techniques.

The expression: “we are standing on the shoulders of giants” holds true in every field.  Sometimes we may laugh at what people before us have believed.  We may think, what an absurd notion!  How could people possibly have believed that!? But those absurd notions were the stepping stones that brought us to our current understanding.  And the beliefs that we hold today are simply more stepping stones taking us to the next “greatest thing since sliced bread”.

Jaak Pansepp identified seven core affective systems.  (Refer to Affective Neuroscience: Published Jan. 17, 2016: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/01/17/)

The SEEKING system was one of the seven, and it turns out it plays a role in the other six.  We cannot help but be curious and exploratory.  It is built into the ancient networks of our brain.  As Panksepp describes it, “an infant SEEKS with no set goal.”

Creativity is a core driver.  We ask questions because we are curious.  We want to know what sits beyond the horizon whether that horizon is the physical or metaphorical.  We SEEK to know more.

Questions can take us out past the horizon line, and they can also take us inside to an exploration of our private space.  Here the questions become even more important because we cannot directly investigate these private realms.

Levels of Analysis
Panksepp asks questions at the level of individual neurons and the systems that they form within the brain.  I have been trained to ask questions at a different level of analysis.  That’s a phrase I learned from Dr. Susan Friedman.  (behaviorworks.org)  Dr. Friedman is a behavioral analyst.  She uses a wonderful metaphor of a viewing scope.  What is the lens focused on – the distant horizon or something much closer?  What is the level of analysis that interests you?

My focus is on balance, but I have to go inside to find the answers to the questions I ask.

Going Inside
What does going inside mean?  If I ask you to raise your arm, I have an overall understanding of how human anatomy works and what muscles, bones, and tendons are involved, but that doesn’t tell me how YOU lift your arm.

I could watch what you do, but that gives me only partial information.  I could ask you directly, but how many of us know how we do something so basic?  We lift our arms without thinking about HOW we are doing it.

So if I want to know how YOU lift your arm, I need to ask questions at a different level of analysis.  I might rest my arm on your shoulder so I can add the tactile information to all the other data I’m been collecting.

I will need to know how to silence all the other answers I’ve gotten from asking similar questions of others.  I can’t assume that your answer will be the same as theirs.  I ask my questions without knowing the answer.

I observe without judgment.

And I observe through questions.

I feel the movement of your arm lifting under my hand.   I could be satisfied with thinking:

Here it lifts.  Here it stops.  Here her shoulder moves.  Here her breath is held.

Instead I want to keep putting a question mark at the end of each of these sentences.

How is she lifting her arm?  Is it anything to do with what I feel under my hands?  How does her arm move? Where does the movement begin?  Where does the movement stop?  Is it the same on both sides?

Adding a Question Mark – Feldenkrais Work
Turning your observations into questions comes via Mia Segal, a Feldenkrais practitioner.  I wrote about her work earlier. (See Part 2: Unit 3, Chapter 3: Feldenkrais Work: Published June 9,2016:https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/06/09/)

In the horse world many of us are aware of the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement method because of Linda Tellington-Jones.  Her TT.E.A.M training evolved out of Moshe Feldenkrais’ work for people.  Feldenkrais’ work is an exploration of movement in which an individual is guided through questions towards greater self-awareness and well being.

Asking Not Telling
Applied to horses what evolves out of this type of exploration is a question that slices straight through to your core belief system.  It is this:

Are you telling or are you asking?

You can train with a clicker and treats, but if you are telling, you aren’t playing, and you most certainly aren’t listening.

Suppose you want your horse to pick up a hind foot.  You can use your clicker and treats to “tell” him to do what you want.

“Shift your weight over off your left hind.” Click then treat.

“Unweight your left hind.” Click then treat.

“Unweight it a bit more.” Click then treat.

“Pick up your left foot.” Click then treat.

“Pick it up higher.” Click then treat.

“Hold it still while I clean your foot.” Click then treat.

You’ve been polite, but you’ve still told your horse what to do.  You’ve picked his foot up, and you’re holding it where you always hold a horse’s foot.  But suppose for this horse’s conformation that means his hock is now under pressure.

The longer you hold his foot up, the more uncomfortable he’s going to become.  He’ll start to fuss and try to pull his foot away.  You’ve been told you have to hold on.  If you let go, he’ll learn he can pull away, and he’ll never hold his foot up for you.  So you hold on.

He becomes more uncomfortable and pretty soon your wrestling match has disintegrated into a full out battle.  No matter the outcome neither of you are winners because the whole process could have been so very different.  Here’s how:

Suppose you ask for his foot instead through a series of questions.  Now it becomes:

“How do you shift your weight over off your left hind?” Click then treat as he responds with an answer.

“Can you unweight your left hind?” Yes.  Click then treat.

“Can you unweight it a bit more?” Yes. Click then treat.

“How do you pick up your left foot?” Follow his movement through the lift. Click then treat.

“Can you pick it up higher?” Yes. Click then treat.

“Where can you comfortably hold your foot?”  Click then treat as you find the spot together.

As you ask these questions, you’ll be listening to your horse.  You’ll feel how his leg unfolds as he lifts it into your hand.  Instead of holding it in a position that stresses his joints, you’ll let him show you where he can hold it comfortably.  Instead of fussing, now you have a horse who knows he’ll be listened to.

The click and the treat helps to guide him through the questions you’re asking.  The questions will give you the lesson.

The Questions – The Lesson
The Questions:

How do I feel it in my hands?

Where does the movement begin?

Where does it stop?

How does it stop?

When does it stop?

How does it begin again?

What changes with repetition?

Is it the same on both sides?

What changes under my hands?

How could it be done differently?

(Note: These questions are from Mia Segal’s youtube video: The Art of the Question.)

Your Homework
Here’s something to play with over the next few days.  Put question marks at the end of your training requests, and then make note of the changes you see in your horse.  I’ll end with a question.  What changes in your relationship as you ask questions and learn to listen deeply for the answers?

Coming Next: The Teachers We Get Are The Teachers We Need

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

What Is Clicker Training?

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 3 of 12

Labels
In the previous section I introduced you to Poco, an extremely ear-shy horse.  I ended that section by saying: “Poco wasn’t going to be helped by following old recipes, but by coming up with solutions that were tailored to his needs.  To do that we had to look more broadly at all that clicker training means.”

I put my first JOYFULL horses post up on January 2, 2016.  This far into the book may seem like an odd time to be asking such a basic question: what is clicker training?  But this question refers to so much more than just the surface definition of clicker training.

The term clicker training was coined by Karen Pryor.  In it’s simplest form it refers to applied operant condition in which a marker signal is paired with positive reinforcement.  In other words, if you like what your animal is doing, you click and reinforce him.

For years at clinics I’ve had people say to me you really need to call your work something other than clicker training.  What you do is so much more than clicker training.

I always throw this right back to them.  What would you call it?

I get lots of suggestions but nothing so far has stuck.  So many of the words that describe my work have been used, abused, and over-used.  Or they are too specific to a narrow area of horse training.

Harmony, balance, partnership have all been used so many times by so many different approaches to training they have lost any meaning.  You can have two diametrically opposed training systems both talking about partnership.  They’ll end up with very different looking horses and each group will be convinced they have “true partnership” and the others don’t.  Sigh.  Labels can leave behind a huge and very controversial mine field to navigate.

When I first came across clicker training, it had no associations attached to it.  It was just a label, a way of referencing a particular approach to training.  I had not seen other clicker-trained horses because there weren’t any around.  I hadn’t yet experimented with it, so I brought no strong biases to the term – good or bad.  It was simply a label, a convenient way to reference a system of training in which a marker signal was paired with positive reinforcement.

For me the term “clicker training” is still a convenient way to refer to a system of training that uses a marker signal, but it has grown to have many more associations for me and for others.  If someone has seen clicker training applied badly, just the mention of the name may send them over the edge into a long diatribe against it.

I’ve seen plenty of clumsy, not well-thought-out clicker training sessions over the years, but that doesn’t make me want to run from the label.  It makes me want to find better ways to teach the work.

What Clicker Training Means To Me
I’ve experienced so much joy both in my own horses and in sharing the work with others that I don’t want to walk away from the label.  Instead I want to make it clearer what clicker training can be.  I don’t know what clicker training has come to mean to others, but to me, when I think of clicker-trained horses, I see happy, well mannered, beautifully balanced horses who are a joy to be around.
icky-what-is-clicker-training-3
My clicker-trained horses make me smile.  I hope how I handle them gives my horses the equine equivalent of those happy feelings.  That’s what I want to share with others.

In 1993 when I started experimenting with clicker training, I didn’t head out to the barn thinking – “I’m going to write a book about this.”  I just wanted to find a way to keep Peregrine entertained while he was on stall rest.

There weren’t other people clicker training horses who I could turn to as role models or who could provide how-to instructions.  That meant I got to invent my own version of clicker training.

Defining Clicker Training
If you were to ask me to define clicker training, I would begin with Karen Pryor’s definition: clicker training is applied operant conditioning in which a marker signal is paired with positive reinforcement.

That gives us an operational definition, but clicker training is so much more than that.  I see it as a huge umbrella under which I can fit many different approaches to horse training.  For example, I studied for a time with Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of TTEAM, so I fit her training under the umbrella.  I also put the work I learned from John Lyons under this same umbrella even though Lyons himself is not a clicker trainer.  These two training methods represent fundamentally different philosophies of horse training, but I was able to draw good things from both and adapt what I learned to fit under my clicker umbrella.

When I think of clicker training, I see a complete and very structured approach to training that results in well-mannered, happy horses.  I think of beautifully-balanced horses who are both having fun and are fun to be around.

Lucky with caption

That’s what I see.  But if all you’ve seen of clicker training is someone using it to teach simple tricks, you may see the fun – but not the balance.  Or maybe you’ve just seen someone who was fumbling around the edges of clicker training.  Your picture of clicker training may be a frustrated horse who is acting aggressively towards the handler.

Creating Stepping Stones
The more people who encounter clicker training the more different images of what it is there will be.  Clicker training will evolve and morph into something else.  That’s the nature of all creative work.  It is never static.  Clicker training, which seemed so revolutionary, so very much on the leading edge of training when I first encountered it, will become mainstream.  It will be the stepping stone to the next leading-edge idea.

We can’t yet know what that idea will be, not until it has had time to evolve.

This is the nature of the creative process.  Humans thrive on creativity.  This is part of play.  You are exploring two separate ideas and suddenly you see how you can put them together to create a completely original combination.  Both ideas by themselves were great.  Combined they are transforming.

So let’s look underneath the clicker training umbrella and see what’s really there.  Let’s also ask the question: are you a clicker trainer, or are you someone who just uses a clicker?  And what is the difference that that question is seeking to answer?

(And yes, I will get back to Poco and his ear-shy problem.)

Coming next: Are You A Clicker Trainer or a User of Clicker Training?

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOYFull Horses: Chapter 3: The Time Has Come . . .

The Time Has Come the Walrus Said To Talk of Many Things

“The time has come,” the walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings.”
Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking Glass

In Chapter One of this section I shared some examples of how the environment can cue behavior.  Panda, the mini I trained to be a guide, provided us with many examples of environmental cues.  In the previous Chapter I showed how a combination of mats and strategic food delivery can be used to teach basic leading.

We’ll be building on that lesson is this next unit. Which means the time has come to talk about Premack, Feldenkrais work, asking questions, mats, airplane runways, needlepoint, and creativity.  If you’re not sure what some of these mean or what the link is between them, read on.  And yes, we will be getting back to play and our list of ten things a beginner needs to know about cues, but first let’s set the stage with a discussion of the Premack Principle.

Behaviors as Reinforcers
One of the things that quickly becomes apparent when you start turning training into play is how quickly the behaviors you teach your horse can be turned around and used as reinforcers for other things.

This is not a new understanding. In the late 1950s primatologist, David Premack developed his relativity theory of reinforcement which is better know as the Premack Principle.  Simply put this means that a higher valued, more probable behavior can be used to reinforce a lesser valued, less probable behavior.

If you hate to sweep your barn aisle, but love to ride, don’t put sweeping after riding.  Let riding serve as a reinforcer for sweeping up.  When you finish grooming and reach for the broom before you reach for your hard hat, that puts you on a habit path that’s going to culminate not just in a great ride, but also in a love for barn chores. Clicks for you!

That’s something I discovered when I changed the sequence in which I did my barn chores.  I’ve always disliked sweeping.  When I was boarding my horses, it never made any sense to me that we were sweeping the barn aisle last thing at night.  The only person who was going to see our beautifully swept aisle was the morning stall cleaner, and she was going to begin the day by making a mess.

It would have been much better to sweep up when we first arrived so we could enjoy the clean aisle all evening, but that wasn’t how things were done.  In my own barn I sweep the aisle first and then follow that with cleaning the stalls and paddocks – something I enjoy.  After the barn chores are done, I get to play with the horses.  The result?  I now look forward to sweeping the aisle. It’s a great way to begin my day.

Panda helping me sweep 3

Panda is “helping” me sweep my barn aisle during a visit to the barn.

The same kind of sequencing becomes important when you train your horse.  Think about the order in which you ask for things.  If you’ve taught a behavior well, it can serve as a reinforcer for a newer behavior you’re working on.  Ideally every behavior you add into your training loops should function as a reinforcer for all the other behaviors.  The result: every behavior you ask for will become something your horse enjoys doing.

That’s ideally.  How can you make that a reality for the behaviors you teach your horses?

Turning Mats Into Tractor Beams
For a horse who likes to be actively doing something, what could be more tedious than standing on a mat?  And yet, that’s definitely not how our eager clicker horses view mats.

Mats become like tractor beams drawing the horse in.  They are where good things happen.  You get treats on a mat.  You get lots of attention.  And when you leave one mat, you get to head off to another.  More treats!  Yeah!!

Harrison on mat hug cropped

Mats are where good things happen.

If I teach mats well, they are a source of play not tedium. When I am first teaching mats, I keep the Premack principle very much in mind.  Most horses initially view a mat as something to avoid.  They will step over it, around it, slam on the brakes in front of it, anything but actually step on it.

I’ve taught mats in lots of different ways.  You can freeshape stepping on a mat, but I prefer to put the horse on a lead and turn this into a more directed-learning process.  The reason I do this is because it’s a great opportunity for the horse and handler to become more familiar with good rope handling techniques.

In the horse world the lead is often used as an enforcement tool.  “Do what I say – or else!” If a horse pushes past the handler, the lead is there to give him a quick reprimand.  The handler jerks the lead so the horse feels a sharp bump from the halter.

If a horse doesn’t back fast enough, he knows the lead will be there again swinging threateningly in his face.

That kind of expectation is not clicker compatible.  We need to take the “do it or else” threat out of the lead.  The lead is there to ask questions – not to tell or demand.

What does this mean – the lead is there to ask questions?  One of the best ways to describe this came from a youtube video clip of Mia Segal.  Segal is a Feldenkrais practitioner.  Developed by Moshe Feldenkrais in the mid-1900s Feldenkrais work eases pain or restrictions to movement by increasing an individual’s awareness of small movements.

Feldenkrais Work
Unlike a massage and other manipulative therapies, Feldenkrais work is experienced through self-observation.  You learn how to move with attention.  You become aware of how you move; what parts of your body you mobilize to create an intended movement; how far the movement flows through your body; where it stops; where it is blocked; and what can be released to extend the movement.  It is an exploration of movement in which an individual is guided via questions towards greater self-awareness and well being.

The expression “Where there is no fear or pain, learning can take place in a single lesson.” lies at the core of this training.  Like many in the horse world I was first introduced to Feldenkrais work via Linda Tellington-Jones.  Her TTEAM training evolved out of this work.  Later I was fortunate to have a client who was an Alexander Practitioner and who had also studied the Feldenkrais work.  We did trades, sharing back and forth the new things we were exploring. Through her I learned even more about the art of asking questions.

Asking Questions
Recently a friend sent me a link to a youtube clip of Mia Segal teaching a workshop  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prGxrhXDEgQ).  My friend said it reminded her a lot of my work.  As I watched it, I thought, she’s right.  Mia Segal might have been talking about working with people, but she was describing perfectly my approach to horse training.  Segal was sitting on the floor with one of the workshop participants.  She was clearly in the middle of a session.  Her student was lying on her back, knees up in the air, with Segal comfortably supporting her head in her hands.

Segal was talking about the first time she saw Moshe Feldenkrais working.  It was 1957.  After the session he asked her if she had any questions.  She had so many, but she knew there were other people waiting.  How could he have time for all of her questions?

Feldenkrais answered her – “If you know the question – it will take but a minute.”

The art of training is knowing the questions to ask.  That is as true for our horses as it is for people.

Segal went on to say:

Someone recently asked the question: ‘What is the difference between this work and pilates, yoga, and other physical therapies. Isn’t it all the same?  So you have another method.’  And I thought the biggest difference is this is a method of questions. I don’t have answers, and I don’t want answers.

You ask a person to move in a certain way.  Bend your knees to the right and you ask – ‘How is she doing it?  Is it anything to do with what I feel under my hands?’

How do I feel it in my hands?  How is she coming back?  Does this change anything under my hands?  And do it to the other side – How is she doing it, and does this feel different?

So rather than thinking – Here it stops.  Here it goes.  Instead I just keep putting a little question mark at the end.  HOW does it go?  HOW does it stop?  WHERE does it stop?  WHEN does it stop?  Is it the same on both sides?  And then I have the whole lesson.”

The Translation to Horses
When I slide down a lead to a point of contact, I am listening through my hands.  And I am asking questions.

Merenaro with alex

This horse and I are deep in conversation.  I am asking many questions through my hands.

When I meet horses for the first time, most aren’t used to being asked anything.  They expect to be ordered about.  Some horses are very compliant.  They have learned that the best way to stay out of trouble is to do what they’re told.  They will follow the feel of a rope.  They will be responsive, and light in your hands. They may even seem happy or at least content.

Light we can measure in terms of how much pressure we need to apply to get a response; how quickly the horse responds; how much weight we feel in the rope as he moves.  Does he move with us, or does he hang back leaving pressure on the lead?  These are all measurable.

But happy.  Who knows. How do I know if you or anyone else is happy?

The “Black Box” of Emotions
How do I know if another person is happy?  I may see behaviors that I associate with times when I have felt happy, but I don’t really know how anyone else feels.  When you say you love your horse, I believe you.  But what does that really mean?  If you tell me you love your horse, but then you sell him so you can buy another horse who jumps higher, I have to believe that that word means something very different to you than it does to me.

So I can say that a horse is responsive – that’s measurable.  I can describe other behaviors that I like to see – his ears are relaxed so they flop back and forth in time with his walk.   Or I might see the opposite.  He has his ears pinned flat, he’s grinding his teeth, and the muscles around his eyes are tight.  These behaviors tell a different story.  I wouldn’t say that’s a horse who is happy.

The Lead Tells A Story
Often when I first attach a lead to a horse, what I encounter is resistance and concern.  Leads have been used for corrections – so the horse is defensive.  He may throw his head up as I slide down the lead, or punch my hand with his mouth.  He might even bite at the lead or at me.  He’s telling me about his history, and I need to listen.  I also need to respond in a way that doesn’t prove to him that he was right to be guarded.

The mats are going to help me.  I was about to add the phrase: get past his defenses, but that’s not exactly right.  That would imply that the castle walls are still there, and all I’ve done is found a way to scale them.

castle walls 1.png

Instead, I want to show him that the castle walls, the moat with the sharks, the draw bridge, the boiling oil, the iron portcullis, and all the armored men lined up behind it aren’t necessary.  They can all vanish, whisked away not through force, but through play.  In the next installment I’ll describe a lesson that replaces castle walls with airplane runways, and you’ll see how the Premack Principle can be applied to training loops.

Coming next: The Runway

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

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Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com